So Brendan Eich’s short tenure as Mozilla CEO has come to an end (report from TMO). The short version is that he donated money to the campaign for Prop 8 in California, an unconstitutional (it turns out) marriage discrimination law (i.e. a gay marriage ban). Since being appointed CEO, Eich has come under ever increasing pressure over his anti-gay stance, with pressure on him to either evolve on the issue, or step down. He made it clear he was not changing his mind on being pro-discrimination, but insisted it wouldn’t affect how he did his job. That wasn’t good enough for the community, and in the end he bowed to the pressure and resigned.
I have skin in the game here, I’m a long-time FireFox user (since before it was even called FireFox), I’ve donated to Mozilla, and I’m a pseudo-married gay man. You can take it as read that I’m not in favour of homophobic laws like Prop 8. You might also imagine that I’d have been straight in there in the chorus of people looking for Eich to step down, but I wasn’t. I had to think long and hard about whether or not it was right to ask for his resignation. My distrust of mobs and my dislike of witch-hunts came into conflict with my abhorrence of discrimination. I needed to figure out the morals of this before I said anything publicly.
We can’t possibly live in a world where no one can be CEO if they don’t agree with our every political view – for us all to share this planet we need to be able to live and let live. So is taking an active part in the fight against gay marriage not just another political view? And hence, should we not be able to live and let live? The problem I see is that Eich was actively fighting AGAINST the rights of other human beings, he was fighting FOR discrimination, which means he was fighting against the live and let live philosophy. That changes things. Views on healthcare, views on taxation, political affiliations, those kinds of things are substantively different to fighting to enshrine discrimination into law.
Something else I firmly believe in is freedom of speech. I’ve seen people argue that this is a free speech issue. It really isn’t. No one is saying Eich should not be allowed express his views. But remember, freedom of speech is not freedom from consequences. I believe everyone should be free to say what they want to say, but others are equally free to disagree and to criticise. Freedom of speech enshrines the rights of everyone, even groups many find objectionable like the Westbro Baptist Church, to say their piece. That freedom does not in any way protect them from criticism, or from there being consequences for what they say. Free speech cuts both ways.
Here’s a simple test – replace sexuality with race. Would it be OK for the CEO of a charitable foundation to donate money to a campaign to ban interracial marriage? I’m pretty darn sure it wouldn’t be! Now, ask yourself, why then would it be OK to discriminate against gay people? There is no difference – no one chooses their race, and no one chooses their sexuality. I know some conservatives like to muddy the water on this, but as a gay man I promise you I didn’t choose this. My life would have been MUCH easier if I’d been born straight! Also, if you’re straight, ask yourself if you chose that, or if your attraction to the opposite sex just came naturally to you? Of course it came naturally! Well, it’s the same for gay people.
Another obvious question is whether or not marriage equality is really that important? In other words, is supporting Prop 8 really discrimination? That I can answer very easily from direct personal experience – it most certainly is! You’ll notice I said I was pseudo-married earlier, not married – that’s because in Ireland, right now, we don’t have marriage equality. Myself and my partner of over ten years have entered into a Civil Partnership, which gives us a sub-set of the rights that come with marriage, but only a sub-set. My family are immigrants to Ireland. Myself and my middle brother were both born in Belgium, and we moved to Ireland when we were very young. We’ve both lived here in Ireland for most of our lives, we were both educated here, we both work here, and we both pay our taxes here. We both fell in love here too, and we both opted to get legal recognition for our relationships. My brother can vote in Irish elections, I cannot. Why? Because he is straight and I am gay. His marriage gives him citizenship, my civil partnership does not. Marriage equality matters in real and practical ways.
So, for me, the bottom line is that actively fighting for discrimination is different to holding an opinion others disagree with. I firmly believe that discrimination is wrong, and that it’s every decent human being’s responsibility to stand up against it. If you proactively act to discriminate, or to enable discrimination, then I think you’re unfit to be a leader. Eich donated to a political campaign with the sole aim of enshrining discrimination into the Californian Constitution, hence, I think he is unfit to be the Mozilla CEO.